NASA Technical Reports Server (NTRS) 20000085159: Evidence for Methane Segregation at the Surface of Pluto
Publication date 1999-01-01
Topics NASA Technical Reports Server (NTRS), METHANE, PLUTO (PLANET), PLANETARY SURFACES, CHARON, CARBON MONOXIDE, EXTRACTION, SOLID NITROGEN, MATHEMATICAL MODELS, SPECTROSCOPIC ANALYSIS, GRANULAR MATERIALS, ABSORPTION SPECTRA, ALBEDO, POLYCRYSTALS, Doute, S., Schmitt, B., Quirico, E., Owen, T. C., Cruikshank, Dale P., deBergh, C., Geballe, T. R., Roush, T. L.,
In May 1995, a set of spectrophotometric curves of the system Pluto-Charon was recorded with the UKIRT telescope equipped with the spectrometer CGS4. As for the previous observations, the spectra cover a part of the near infrared range, between 1.4 and 2.55 micrometers, but with a higher resolution of approximately 700. In both the 1992 and 1995 data, the existence of solid methane is confirmed by numerous absorption bands, and the carbon monoxide and the nitrogen ices are identified by their respective signatures at 2.35 and 2.15 um. The solid nitrogen seems to be the principal icy component and forms a matrix in which the CH4 and CO molecules are diluted. However a spectroscopic analysis of the 1995 observations indicates that pure methane may coexist with its diluted phase in N2. In order to derive the horizontal and vertical distribution of these different species and to obtain some quantitative information about their characteristics, we have modeled the spectrum of May 15 that corresponds to the maximum of Pluto's visible light curve. This was achieved by means of a radiative transfer algorithm dealing with compact and stratified media. Among the various representations we have tested to describe the surface of Pluto, only a geographical mixture of three distinct units explains all the significant structures of the analyzed spectrum. The first unit is a thin granular layer of pure CH4 covering a compact polycrystalline substratum of N2-CH4-CO, which are in a molecular mixture (concentrations of and CO of the order of 0.45%, 0.1-0.2% respectively). It covers about 70% of the observed area and corresponds to volatile deposits that are sublimating under solar illumination. The second unit is either (a) a single thick layer of pure granular methane or (b) a unit similar to the first unit but with the two components inverted (i.e. with CH4 forming a substratum and the N2-CH4-CO mixture a superficial layer of fine grains). Covering 20% of the surface, it represents some old surfaces that have been sublimated for a long time, and eventually recovered later by very small amounts of fresh deposits of the molecular mixture N2-CH4-CO. Finally, the third unit may result from the condensation of very fine grains of nearly pure N2. It covers the remainder of the surface (about 10%). All these results allow a better understanding of the processes of deposition, metamorphism, sublimation and transport affecting the different ices detected on Pluto during its climatic cycles.
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